A Fire of Devotion: Part 2 of 4: Louder Than Bells: Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

“I thought we were trying to disable it,” Commander Chakotay said, as the debris from an exploded Borg probe ship filled the viewscreen.
Seven of Nine checked her scanners, wondering what she had done wrong. She had been skeptical of the plan to try and capture the Borg ship, the smallest design the collective used, but Janeway had been correct that it’s relative lack of weapons, plus the briefly vulnerable status its shields would have once it exited its transwarp conduit made it at least an even fight. Of course, the fact that Voyager, thanks to Seven’s upgrades to the astrometrics labs, could see the Borg ship coming in the first place gave them an advantage.
“It would appear the torpedo detonated near a power matrix, causing a chain reaction,” she said.

“Any survivors?” Janeway asked. Seven looked down at her console again, but Tuvok had already checked.
“None,” he said.
“Debris status?” Janeway said, now looking towards Harry.
“There’s a few components intact,” he said. “but they’re badly damaged.”
Janeway turned back to Chakotay.
“Begin a salvage operation,” she said. “There might be something we can use. Weapons, a transwarp coil-”
“That second one would be unlikely,” Seven said. “Unless there’s been a redesign of such vessels since I’ve been free of the collective, the transwarp coils would’ve been right near the power matrix and would’ve taken the brunt of the explosion.”

Janeway shrugged, and smiled.
“Maybe,” she said. “but I feel pretty lucky today.” She left the bridge and headed for her ready room. Tom Paris and Chakotay shared a look of concern, and Seven couldn’t blame them. At the same time though, this battle had been easy. One could argue that it was too easy, but the Borg Collective was not known for laying traps. Traps were often convoluted and had a much higher risk of failure than simple overwhelming force.
“I really wish she hadn’t said that,” Harry said. “It’s been a few weeks since we had a major crisis. I can’t help but feel like we’re tempting fate here.”
“Had I not been on this ship for nearly five years, Lieutenant Kim,” Tuvok said, “I would be inclined to dismiss what you said as illogical. However, Voyager does seem to encounter more difficult situations than would be considered normal for a Starfleet vessel.”

“If this vessel were named Enterprise however,” Seven said, “such difficult situations would likely be referred to as ‘Tuesday,’”

Tom Paris laughed, and even Chakotay grinned.
“Good one, Seven,” Tom said.

Captain Janeway walked into the cargo bay where much of the Borg debris was already being gone over by multiple crewmembers.

“My spoils of war,” she said, grinning.
“Eight kilotons of debris total,” Chakotay, who was standing just a half-step behind her said. “Most of it hull fragments. So far we’ve recovered two power nodes and a dozen plasma conduits, all in working order.”
“Anything left of their propulsion systems?” Janeway said. She remembered what Seven of Nine had said on the bridge about how unlikely it was they could get a transwarp coil in good enough shape to possibly upgrade Voyager’s engines, and get them home sooner. But a part of her held out hope.

“B’Elanna found a transwarp coil,” Chakotay said, pointing towards a piece of Borg tech resting on top of a tarp covered Starfleet issue cargo container. Janeway picked it up.
“Well,” she said. “That’s lighter than I expected.”
“It could make a nice flower pot if we can’t get it to work,” Chakotay said, but Janeway ignored the joke.

“Let’s hope our little skirmish got back to the hive mind,” she said. “Maybe they’ll think twice before they attack us again.”

“It was only a probe,” Chakotay said. “Next time we might not be so lucky.”

“By my count,” Janeway said, putting the coil back down, “we’ve added at least two years to our journey home by avoiding the Borg.”
“True,” Chakotay said, “but at the same time, along the way we’ve managed to subtract more than twenty. That’s not nothing.”
“I know, Chakotay, but still, I’m tired of turning tail every time we detect a cube.”

“Better safe than assimilated,” Chakotay said.
Janeway was about to reply when she heard an excited shout from the Doctor, who she hadn’t noticed was in the cargo bay until just now.
“I was hoping to find one of these,” he said, holding up what looked like a drone’s severed arm. “It’s a servo-armature from a medical repair drone. It’s got a laser scalpel, a bimolecular scanner, micro-suture, and all rolled into one instrument.”

“That’s nice, Doctor,” Janeway said. “Please don’t point it in my face.”
“Oh, sorry about that,” the Doctor said. ”My point is, this could revolutionize the way that I perform surgery.”
“Sounds good,” Janeway said. “Keep me posted on that.”
“Will do, Captain,” the Doctor said. Janeway glanced back to where the transwarp coil had been sitting. At some point while she’d been talking with Chakotay and the Doctor, Seven of Nine and B’Elanna Torres had come in and were doing something with the device.
“Remodulate the coil frequency,” B’Elanna said.
“No effect,” Seven of Nine. “Same as last time I’m afraid. It appears your theory that we were using the wrong tools was incorrect.”
“Which you said from the get-go,” B’Elanna said. “Guess I should’ve listened.”
“No harm was done in the attempt,” Seven said.
Is it wrong that the two of them not bickering bothers me? Janeway thought.
“What’s wrong?” Janeway asked.
“The field regulator is fused,” Seven said. “We won’t be able to activate the transwarp coil.”
“Damn,” Janeway muttered.
“Well,” Chakotay said, “at least the Doctor found a new toy.”
“I was really hoping we’d get something more useful,” Janeway said.
“We may have,” Seven said. She walked over to a worktable that had been set up, where two Borg data nodes were sitting.
“This node here,” Seven said, pointing at the one on Janeway’s right, “is a drone manifest. The other contains tactical information.”
“Specifically?” Janeway said.
“Long range sensor telemetry, assimilation logistics, and vessel movements for a radius of thirty light years,” Seven said. “I’ll need to convert the information to Starfleet parameters, but we should be able to get a good look at the data within two hours.”

“Good work, Seven,” Janeway said. “Maybe this day isn’t such a wash after all.”
“Captain,” Seven said, “we survived a ship to ship battle with a Borg vessel, without the aid of a fleet, or a natural phenomena. That is nothing to sneeze at, as Sam would say.”

Janeway smiled, though she wondered if Seven would ever just use colloquialisms without having to give credit to the crewmember she first heard them from.

“I was able to recover sixty-two percent of the data,” Seven said, working on one of the consoles in the astrometrics lab. Captain Janeway and Tuvok were there, already in front of the main console, and looking at the main screen, waiting on Seven.

“This is an iso-grid of Borg tactical movements across twenty-five sectors,” she said.

“Are there any dangers along our present course?” Janeway said.
“There are three cubes approximately nine light years away,” Seven said, zooming in on an image of the three cubes, with a green line through each one showing its flight plan. “They are traveling on a trajectory parallel to our own. They do not pose a threat.”
“What about that vessel?” Janeway said, pointing to another mark on the grid.
Seven tapped a few buttons, and the viewscreen shifted again.
“It’s a scout ship, a sphere,” Seven said. “It’s approximately eight light years away, traveling at warp two.”

“Why only warp two?” Tuvok asked.
“It appears the ship was heavily damaged,” Seven said.

“Was it attacked?” Tuvok said.
Seven brought up the data on the sphere.
“No,” she said. “An ion storm. The sphere is presently regenerating. At least, presently as of when we destroyed the probe ship.”

“I want a heavily detailed schematic of that vessel,” Janeway said.
Uh oh, Seven thought. She has a plan, and we’re not going to like it.

“I think we’ve just struck gold,” Janeway said, looking back at her and Tuvok with a look of grim determination.
Seven looked at Tuvok, and could tell, even through his calm Vulcan exterior that he was feeling the same way she was; that whatever the Captain was going to suggest had the potential to end very, very badly.

I’m starting to think she let our victory against the probe ship go to her head, Seven thought. Still, she did as she was asked, and once she had what the captain had requested, Janeway called a meeting of the senior staff in the briefing room.

“So what we have here,” Janeway said as she called up a schematic of the Borg sphere on the main screen in the briefing room, “in two simple words is Fort Knox.”
“Captain?” Tuvok said.
“Fort Knox was said to be the largest repository of gold bullion in Earth’s history,” Tom said. “Its security is the stuff of legend. If the stuff I read in history class is right, no one ever managed to break into Fort Knox. It was considered impenetrable.”

“Are we planning a heist, Captain?” Chakotay said.
“As a matter of fact,” Janeway said, smiling, “yes. But we’re not chasing gold, we’re chasing a working transwarp coil. Think it might come in handy?”
“If I could equip our engines with even one coil,” B’Elanna said, smiling herself, “we could shave about twenty years off this trip.”
“Do you believe the Borg sphere is damaged enough for us to penetrate its defenses?” Tuvok said.
“Long enough to take what we need and get out in one piece,” Janeway said. She looked at everyone around the table, waiting for objections. Not hearing any, at least not yet, she continued. “Now, to pull this off we would need to plan this operation down to the millisecond. There’s no margin for error on something like this.”

Seven of Nine looked like she wanted to say something, but kept quiet. Janeway figured she would bring it later in private. She wasn’t going to make her wait that long though. As soon as she had finished she would ask her senior staff for suggestions and concerns.

“The way I see it,” she continued, “we need to plan an intercept course that won’t attract their attention then create a diversion to keep them distracted so we can send in an away team to grab the coil.”
“I’d like to see the data on that sphere,” Chakotay said before Janeway had the chance to ask for feedback. “We might be able to recreate parts of it on the holodeck and run a few tactical simulations.”
“Sounds good,” Janeway said, smiling. “Do it.”

“We’ll need to mask our warp signature,” B’Elanna said. “I picked up a few tricks in the Maquis I can use to pull that off. They’re not exactly Starfleet approved though.”
“Go ahead,” Janeway said. “The sphere is three days away at maximum warp, so Tom, set a course. Chakotay, I want an outline for our heist by tomorrow morning.

“Now, to be fair, are there any objections to the plan?”
Nobody said anything, but Janeway wasn’t ready to dismiss them all just yet
“Harry, you haven’t said anything,” she said. Harry simply shrugged.

“How about you, Seven, any thoughts?”
“Your plan is ambitious,” Seven said, “and there are many variables. However, I do think it could succeed.”
“Perhaps we could narrow those variables a bit,” Janeway said. “I have something I’d like to ask you, but it’s a sensitive matter. Everyone else, dismissed.”
Seven seemed puzzled, but she merely sat there as everyone else filed out.
“Captain?” She said once the two of them were alone.
“I’ve been going over the records we found on the U.S.S. Raven,” Janeway said.
“My,” Seven said, pausing to take in a deep breath. “My parent’s ship. I did not know that you had taken any data from the ship’s logs. Why was I not informed?”
“At the time you didn’t seem interested in your past,” Janeway said, “from before you were assimilated. I thought you were aware of the records, so I set them aside, hoping one day you’d ask for them. I apologize for not realizing that you didn’t know. If I had-”
“Apology accepted,” Seven said, a bit harsh in her tone, but Janeway felt she couldn’t hold it against her.

“Anyway, Magnus and Erin Hansen both kept extensive field notes, detailed journals; there are over nine thousand log entries alone. They spent their careers studying the Borg. They tracked a cube at close range for three years. I’d say that made them experts.”
“And you want me to go over that research,” Seven said. “Look for anything that could us a tactical edge.”
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” Janeway said. “These records have been collecting metaphorical dust in our database for over a year. You’re the best person for this job. If you feel uncomfortable, if you’re worried it will bring up any traumatic memories I can ask someone else to-”
“No,” Seven said. “The information belongs to me. I will read it.”
“Have Sam with you,” Janeway said. “Having somebody to lean on if it gets painful can be a big help.”
“I appreciate the thought, Captain,” Seven said. “but I feel this is something I should do myself. Sam is a protective person by nature. If reading this becomes emotionally difficult she will want me to stop. I would rather not put her in that position.”
“Fair enough, but if it gets too tough for you, report to sickbay immediately. Under any other circumstance I’d tell you to just put the logs away for awhile, but this operation is too important, I’m sorry. Do whatever it takes.”
“Understood,” Seven said.

Seven poked at a Borg data node with a tool her unfocused mind had forgotten the name of even though she’d used it hundreds of times since joining the crew. The door to the cargo bay opened and Neelix walked in, carrying a box.
“You are late,” she said, but only as a statement with no real frustration behind it.

“Sorry,” Neelix said. “It took longer than I expected to download these records. This is only the first batch.” Neelix took the lid off the box, revealing two rows of PADDs, seven in each. “I organized the information by category. Field notes, personal logs, bio-kinetic analyses, etcetera.”
“Thank you,” Seven said.
“Glad to help, but I need to get started on the rest of the files. I’ll see what I can do to make it go faster this time.”
“I doubt I will have completed reading this batch,” Seven said, picking up the box and carrying it over to her alcove. She sat down and took one PADD out to start reading. “Your current pace is adequate.”
“All right then,” Neelix said as he headed for the door. “If you need anything let me know.”

Seven opened the first log, one recorded by her father.
“Field notes, U.S.S Raven, Stardate 32611.4. It’s about time. The Federation Council on Exobiology has given us final approval. Starfleet’s still concerned about security issues, but they’ve agreed not to stand in our way. We’ve said our good-byes, and we’re ready to start chasing our theories about the Borg.”
“If only they’d thought to talk to an El Aurian,” Seven said aloud, even though no one was there to hear her. It was amazing to her how much the Federation had known about the Borg, even before the first official encounter with them made by the Enterprise-D ten years ago. She had to admit a certain amount of admiration for the amount of work it had taken Starfleet to keep so many people convinced for so long that the Borg were merely a rumor, when there were so many El Aurian refugees all over the Alpha Quadrant. and had been for nearly a century. As to why that was, she had theories, but ultimately it was irrelevant. She imagined there were few sentient races in the galaxy now that didn’t at least know of the Borg, even if they’d never encountered them.

She continued reading her parent’s logs, losing track of time until Chakotay’s voice over her comm badge refocused her attention.

“Seven of Nine, report to the bridge,” he said, as the ship went into red alert mode.
“On my way,” she said. We can’t have reached the sphere already, she thought. She checked the chronometer on her way out, the time stamp confirming what her sore legs and back were telling her. She’d been sitting the whole time. She wondered why neither Sam nor the Captain had come to check on her in all that time as she made her way to the bridge.

When she exited the turbolift, she saw an enhanced view of the sphere on the screen.
“Looks it took a real beating,” she heard Chakotay say.

“They could still pose a threat,” Janeway said. “Let’s not get too close. Match their course and speed, keep a distance of ten million kilometers.”
“Aye, Captain,” Tom said. Janeway glanced over her shoulder, saw Seven, and turned to face her.
“Seven, scan the vessel. I want to know their current status.”
“Understood,” Seven said, moving quickly to the auxiliary tactical console. “Their weapons array is regenerating, but their shields and transwarp drive are still off-line.”

“How long until they have transwarp?” Janeway said.
“Approximately seventy-two hours,” Seven said.
“We may not get this opportunity again,” Janeway said, clearly speaking to everyone on the bridge now, including Sam who Seven only now noticed at one of the science stations. Seven smiled, but Sam was fixated on the view of the Borg sphere on the screen. Seven imagined she was nervous, and couldn’t blame her.

“I don’t intend to miss this,” Janeway continued, “whatever it takes. Double shifts, round-the-clock simulations, I want to be ready.”
The crew got to work. Seven managed to maneuver herself over to Sam’s station.
“I apologize for missing lunch,” she said.
“No need,” Sam said. “Neelix told me what you were doing, and I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Oh,” Seven said. “Well, still, I let myself get distracted and-”
“It’s okay, really,” Sam said, smiling now. She put her hand on one of Seven’s. “Once we get that transwarp coil, you can tell me all about it. I’m curious to know what your parents were like. Maybe I can tell you about mine, too.”
“I’d like that,” Seven said.
“Seven,” Harry said from the back of the bridge. “I need your input on something real quick.” Seven sighed, and gently squeezed Sam’s hand.
“Sometimes I feel like you are too forgiving, Samantha Wildman,” she said.

“Well that could’ve gone better,” Harry said as the holodeck simulation of one of Voyager’s transporter rooms froze.
“That’s an understatement Harry,” Janeway said, groaning in frustration. Up until this moment, things had gone swimmingly in the latest simulation. She, Harry, Tuvok, and Seven had successfully disabled the sphere’s sensor grid and gotten the pattern enhancers around the transwarp coil to beam it off, but the two minute period they had while the sensor grid was down had expired, and Borg drones had managed to piggyback in on Voyager’s transporter beam and right to the bridge.

“We’re going to have to find a way to cut down our time on the sphere even further,” Seven of Nine said, “but I’m unsure how.”
“We could increase the size of the away teams,” Harry said. “Beam one to the sensor grid, and another to the chamber with the transwarp coil.”
Janeway shook her head.
“Too risky,” she said. “More people increases the risk of attracting the drone’s attention. We can’t do anything that would make us look like a threat before we’re ready.”
“In addition,” Seven said, “the transwarp chamber is too heavily shielded.”

Janeway rubbed her eyes, feeling both tired and wound up at the same time, a side effect of too little sleep and too much caffeine.

“Seven, weren’t your parents able to walk around a Borg cube for hours at a time at one point without being detected?”
“I do not recall that being in the logs I have read,” Seven said. “That information may be in one of the other PADDs that Neelix brought me I haven’t gotten to yet.”
“Try to find it, and fast,” Janeway said. “I’m not ready to give up yet.”
“Captain,” Tuvok said, “you should prepare yourself for the possibility that this mission may prove too dangerous to succeed. I will continue to run simulations and search for other ways to reduce our time on the cube, but there are a finite number of scenarios I can conceive of.”
Janeway knew that Tuvok was right. If anything, he was being kind in not telling her to give up now, when doubtless his logical mind was telling him this was not worth it. Once again, she found herself grateful to have a Vulcan as a close friend.

“I’ll take that under advisement,” she said. “Thank you, Tuvok. Seven, get on those logs. Harry, you and Tuvok keep working on the simulations. I need to lie down for a few minutes. If I’m not back in an hour, come and get me. Wake me up no matter what, even if I threaten you with a court martial.”
“Understood, Captain,” Harry said with a wry grin.
Janeway left the holodeck, yawned, and headed for her quarters. Along the way, she passed by Ensign Wildman.
“If you’re looking for Seven,” Janeway said, “I’ve got her back on log duty. I’m hoping her parents have more information that can help us.”
“I was actually going to pick up Naomi from her lessons with the Doctor,” Samantha said, “but thanks for letting me know. And I hope it all works out too. Getting that transwarp coil could really help us.”
Samantha went on her way, and Janeway watched her go. In some ways, what Samantha and Seven of Nine had reminded her of how she and her now ex-fiancee Mark had been when they were first dating.
I just hope those two get a happier ending than we did, she thought.

The realization hit her so hard it almost felt like a physical impact.

“We have more than one transporter room,” Seven said aloud, even though there was no one in cargo bay with her. She was sitting in front of her alcove, reading her parents’ logs when the idea came to her; each team would go in and come back on a different transporter pad. They had more than enough people on board who were capable of operating a transporter beam; more than half the crew had at least the bare minimum requirements to be allowed to do so, and there were at least a dozen who were rated as “experts,” only two of whom, Harry and Tuvok, would be on the away mission.

The door to the cargo bay opened, and Naomi walked in.
“Hi,” Seven said, making a note to send the Captain her idea about using two separate transport sites later. “You seem upset, is everything alright?”

“I had a bad dream,” Naomi said. “Can I stay with you for awhile? Mom’s in engineering and Neelix is on duty shift.”
“Sure,” Seven said.
“Are these your mom and dad’s journals?” Naomi said, looking at the stacks of PADDs around Seven.
“Yes,” Seven said. “I am searching for information that may help us on our current mission.”
Naomi nodded.
“In my dream, I went on the mission too. It didn’t work, and everyone got assimilated.”
“Your concerns are understandable,” Seven said, putting an arm around Naomi’s shoulder. “And I won’t lie to you and say that our chances of success are high. However, I am still confident we can succeed.”
“I hope so,” Naomi said, leaning against Seven and closing her eyes.
Seven went back to reading, but only a minute or so later, she heard a voice. It was faint, and for a second she thought that Naomi had fallen asleep and was sleep talking. She looked down, but the child was still awake, and was looking at the text on some of the PADDs that were on the floor, ones that Seven had already finished.
“Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01,” the voice said, loud enough to be understood this time. “You have become weak.”
It was a feminine voice, one Seven did not recognize, but she knew that it was coming through her Borg transceiver, the one that shouldn’t be working.
“Naomi,” Seven said, “could you do me a favor and take some of these PADDs to your quarters?” She pointed to a box where the lid had been put back on. “I’ve already read most of those, but Sam said she wanted to know what my parents were like. It shouldn’t be too heavy.”
Naomi looked puzzled, like she wasn’t sure she believed Seven’s stated reason. Seven didn’t blame her at all, but Naomi eventually shrugged.
“Okay,” she said. “can I come back when I’m done?”
“Of course,” Seven said, hoping that Naomi would actually get tired carrying the box and decide to try and go back to sleep instead. Naomi picked up the box and left.

“Identify yourself,” Seven said to the voice as soon as Naomi was gone. She turned around, and gasped. Somehow, the cargo bay had instantaneously transformed into the interior of a Borg ship.
No, no, that can’t be right, Seven thought. I am in a regeneration cycle, I am dreaming.

“This is no dream, Seven of Nine,” the female voice said.

“Seven of Nine to security,” Seven said, slapping her comm badge, “intruder alert.”
“They can’t hear you,” the voice said.
“Who are you?” Seven said, panic replacing nervousness in her voice now.

“I am the Borg,” the voice said. “Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01, you have become weak,” the voice added, repeating the first thing it had said to her.

“Where are you?” Seven said, looking around. Maybe if she could attack the source of the voice somehow…

“We’ve accessed your neural transceiver. Our thoughts are one. We know about Voyager’s plan to invade the sphere. It will fail.”

I need to warn them, Seven thought.
“Do so, and I will redirect the three cubes nearest your position to you. Voyager will not escape. Your ship, its crew, your lover and her child, all will be assimilated.”

“Why haven’t you done so already?” Seven asked.
“We’ve come to make you an offer,” the voice said. “Rejoin the collective and we’ll spare Voyager.”

Seven wanted to accuse the voice of lying, of setting a trap of some kind, but somehow she knew it was true.
“Why?” Seven said.
“Because,” the voice said, almost sounding aroused, much to Seven’s discomfort. “you are unique.”

With that, Seven’s vision returned to reality. She was standing in the cargo bay again, and she was afraid. Worst of all, she knew what she had to do.

“Computer, begin recording a message for delayed delivery to Samantha Wildman,” she said.

“A bio-dampener?” The Doctor said when Seven of Nine presented him with the information she’d found in her father’s field notes. “That’s very clever. Have you informed the Captain about this find?”
“I did,” Seven said, “She told me to bring it to you immediately.”
The Doctor began going over the schematics, while Tuvok looked on.
“The device creates a field around the body which simulates the physiometric conditions on a Borg vessel,” Seven said. “It is a very effective camouflage.”
“Doctor,” Tuvok said, “how quickly can you prepare four of these devices?”
“I’ll have to tailor each unit to its user’s physiology,” the Doctor said, “so a few hours at least. I’ll get started immediately.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Tuvok said, before leaving sickbay. The Doctor noticed that Seven of Nine simply stood there, staring at the schematics on the screen.
“The Hansens were resourceful,” she said.
“Indeed,” the Doctor said. “Seven, is something wrong?”
“No. Well, yes. Perhaps. I think I am just having concerns about being a Borg vessel again for the first time in almost two years. It is,” Seven paused, as though she was searching for the right word. “Disconcerting,” she said.
“Understandable,” the Doctor said. “Though if you have sincere doubts about your abilities you should inform the Captain so she can assign someone else to the mission.”
“As tempting as that offer is, Doctor,” Seven said, sighing sadly, “without my expertise on the Borg the mission’s chances of success drop dramatically. I’ll have to just adapt.”
“I believe you will,” the Doctor said, smiling. Seven looked like she wanted to say something more, but instead she offered a polite nod, and left. The Doctor couldn’t shake the feeling that something was bothering her, but he had a task to accomplish and a short window of time to do it, so he got to work.

Seven wondered why the Captain had called her up to her ready room. Part of her hoped that she was going to abort the mission, but deep down she knew that doing so would likely be a death sentence as the collective would end up sending three cubes after them. One alone could easily destroy Voyager, or assimilate its entire crew.

“Coffee?” Janeway said. “You look like you could use some.”
“No thank you,” Seven said. She had tried coffee before and didn’t care for it, even though paradoxically she found she liked the smell.
“Caffeine is a human vice you might wanna try one day. Keeps you sharp.”
“Another time,” Seven said, not really thinking about coffee anymore, but what would happen to her once the collective took her again.
“You might also want to try craps. Harry and I played last night. He won so he got to keep his hands,” Janeway said.

Seven looked up, her mouth hanging open.
“What? That-”
“That was a joke Seven,” Janeway said. “I was just seeing if you were still paying attention. You seem distracted.”

“I apologize, Captain,” Seven said. “My mind has been focused on the mission. I have even been neglectful of my relationship with Sam as a result, but she has been very understanding.”
Janeway took a sip of her coffee and looked down at the PADD in her other hand.
“I’ve been fine-tuning our game plan for tomorrow morning,” she said. “I’ve decided to reassign you to the bridge.”
Yes! Seven thought.
“That would be inadvisable,” she said, hoping her inner turmoil wasn’t showing in her facial expressions. She didn’t want to go back to the Borg, but the alternative was seeing everyone she cared about being assimilated themselves, and she couldn’t stand for that.
“I’m concerned about Voyager’s safety. If the sphere decides to attack, I’ll need your expertise at tactical.”
The Captain’s logic was sound, Seven couldn’t argue with that, but there would be no way for her to turn herself over to the Borg to save Voyager unless she was on the sphere. She tried to come up with a justification to stay on the away team that didn’t sound convoluted.

“Captain, you may encounter unexpected obstacles; force fields, encryption codes… I’m the only member of this crew qualified to anticipate and deal with them.”
Janeway looked upset.
“You underestimate the rest of us?” she said.

“You underestimate the Borg,” Seven said, a bit harsher than she meant to. “My parents made the same mistake, and I ended up being raised by the Borg.”
Janeway tapped the handle of her coffee mug several times with her thumb, then stepped forward.
“This is more than just a question of tactics,” Janeway said. “I’m concerned about your well-being, and your ability to perform on this mission.”

“Your concern is unwarranted,” Seven said.
“Is it? I’m not the only one who has noticed something off about you this past day. The Doctor, Tuvok, even Naomi. I bet Samantha has noticed too, even though she hasn’t said anything.”
“If she had her concerns, Captain, she would have addressed them to me,” Seven said, speaking the absolute truth and not just trying to convince the Captain to let her go on the mission. “I have always listened to her concerns and advice, even if I have not always followed it.”
“Okay,” Janeway said, “I’ll take your word for it on that, I’m not privy to the inner workings of your relationship with her. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve noticed changes in your behavior. You seem preoccupied, agitated, even a little depressed. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate your efforts. We couldn’t have come this far without your help. But it’s obviously taken its toll.”
Janeway sighed, and took another sip of coffee. Seven stood there, unsure what the say. She knew the Captain was right of course, and it would be so easy to just tell her that the Borg had contacted her and they needed to run and hope they could escape.
“If I had known how those journals were going to affect you,” Janeway said, “I never would’ve pushed you to read them. I’m not about to ask you to face the collective in your present frame of mind.”
“Captain, we are in the Delta Quadrant,” Seven said. “The Borg are always going to be a threat. Less so as we get further away from their main territory, but a threat nonetheless. I’ll admit the past several days have been difficult, but I must join the away team. As I said, I am the best qualified to handle anything unexpected that could happen. If I don’t go I am certain this mission will fail.”

“I know you, Seven,” Janeway said. “there’s something more going on here. What’s wrong?”
“The survival of this ship and its crew has become important to me,” Seven said. “Not just Sam, though she was the first. This vessel is my collective now. I am willing to risk my own well-being if it will increase our chances of success.” Seven wasn’t lying to the Captain, she certainly would. The only detail she left out was the fact that she knew for a fact that her being on the sphere would save this ship, and everyone on it.

Janeway walked over to her desk, put her cup down, and cross her arms, staring at Seven for several seconds.
“Okay,” Janeway said. Seven waited for her to say more, but she didn’t.
“Thank you,” Seven said.

“Dismissed,” Janeway said. “We go at 0600 hours. Meet us in transporter room one.”
“I will,” Seven said.

The Borg sphere had, as Seven had predicted, not yet repaired its shields by the time the operation began. The away team consisting of Seven of Nine, Tuvok, Harry Kim, and Captain Janeway, all equipped with the bio-dampeners the Doctor had made for them, beamed aboard without incident.
Seven could hear the voice of the Borg, the feminine one as opposed to the voice of the Collective, in her head. “Never forget who you are,” it said.

The team split up, Tuvok and Harry going to the sensors, Janeway and Seven to retrieve the transwarp coil. Seven was nervous, a part of her worried that the Borg were lying and this was all a trap. If it wasn’t though, at the very least they could get Voyager that coil. Helping them get home sooner would be worth the price she was paying.

Seven and Janeway, each carrying a transporter pattern enhancer, made it to their target first, having to slip past fewer drones than the simulations had suggested, which meant they now had to wait on Harry and Tuvok to destroy the sensor node, buying them the two minutes to beam the coil out and escape undetected. Or at least, for Janeway, Harry, and Tuvok to escape undetected.
The sound of an explosion was the cue. Seven quickly worked to disconnect the transwarp coil while the Captain adjusted the pattern enhancer. Within seconds, the coil was beamed away, and Chakotay’s voice came over their comm badges.
“Target obtained,” he said.
“All right, let’s get the hell out of here,” Janeway said, heading out of the chamber and towards the rendezvous point where Tuvok and Harry would hopefully be waiting for them, Seven followed behind, though she knew she would not be joining them.
Whatever you’re going to do to keep me here, she thought, just do it already.

“Seven of Nine,” the voice said, causing Seven to stop in her tracks.
“Seven, keep moving!” Captain Janeway yelled.

“No,” Seven said, her voice breaking as she said so. She considered for a moment lying, and saying she was staying of her own free will, but then she remembered the message she’d left for Samantha that would be appearing in her quarters in approximately three minutes. “I’m sorry. They knew you were coming, I have to stay. To save you. Go, please.”

Janeway started walking back towards where Seven stood, but a force field appeared blocking the path.
“Go!” Seven yelled. “You have the coil, get your crew home Captain!”

“Chakotay to away team, the sphere has detected Voyager and is locking on weapons. We need to get you out of there.”
“I’m not leaving without you,” Janeway said. Seven heard drones coming up from behind her.
“Dammit, Kathryn, run!” Seven said, tears pouring down her face. Janeway looked behind her as another drone came up the corridor at the opposite end. Janeway blasted it with her phaser rifle, and taking one last sad look at Seven, ran towards the transport point.
“Get them home,” Seven said, even though she knew the Captain was too far away to hear her. “Do it for me. Make this worth it.”

The two drones that had approached Seven from behind now stood on either side of her. She closed her eyes, waited for the sting of an assimilation tubule, and opened them again when she realized that the drones weren’t trying to assimilate her at all, but in fact stood in defensive positions around her.

Janeway ordered that she and the team be beamed directly to the bridge. When she, Harry and Tuvok rematerialized, Chakotay immediately asked the obvious question.
“Where’s Seven?”
“The mission was compromised,” Janeway said, deciding to tell them only the barest minimum of the truth. “She bought us time to get out with the transwarp coil. But I’m not going to abandon her. Status of the sphere?”
“They’re bringing their remaining transwarp coils on line,” B’Elanna said from the auxiliary tactical station.
“Tom, pursuit course. Tuvok, target the propulsion systems.”
Before Tom Paris could do anything though, the viewscreen showed the Borg sphere glow green, and vanish in a flash.
“They’re gone, Captain,” Tom said.
Janeway sighed. The rest of the bridge was silent, even the Doctor, who stood next to Harry Kim’s station. She looked around, hoping someone would say something, have an idea. But nobody said anything.
How the hell am I going to tell Sam? she thought. She had lost people under her command before, and every loss weighed on her. She sometimes would see their faces in her dreams. This loss, however, felt far more personal than any of those had, and unlike those other instances where she had at least had a chance to get some kind of justice for them-

“Captain?” Chakotay said, derailing her train of thought. “Are you alright?”
“No,” Janeway said. “No, I’m not.”

Seven of Nine and her drone escorts entered through a spearhead-shaped door and stood in a large room with a wide, slightly raised platform situated in the middle. Seven knew they were no longer on the sphere, nor were they on a cube. Seven could tell that they were now in fact inside a Borg Unicomplex, a structure composed of thousands of connected structures and hubs spanning at least six hundred kilometers, and housed hundreds of Borg ships and trillions of drones.

Seven heard a noise and looked up. Above the platform, a head and its upper torso descended on a lift from above. The head appeared to be that of a humanoid female, and it was smiling. As the head and torso approached the floor, a disassembled black mechanical body, composing the rest of the torso and limbs rose from the floor. After the two parts were attached, the body slowly walked up to Seven. It was only then that Seven realized who this was. As a drone she had always heard this one’s voice as the voice of the collective.
“The Borg Queen,” she muttered. “That’s what my father called you.”
The Borg Queen simply smiled.
“Welcome home,” she said, reaching out and touching the side of Seven’s face. She looked at Seven, up and down, as if sizing her up like a cat approaching its prey or, in a mental image that almost made Seven laugh, a clothing designer figuring out what size pants to make.

“You’ve changed,” the Borg Queen said. “Your exo-plating, your ocular implant… They’ve taken you apart and they’ve recreated you in their own image.” The Borg Queen sounded like she was upset at this.
I would imagine the hypocrisy of this is completely lost on her, Seven thought.

The Queen continued walking around Seven, slowly, gently tugging at her Starfleet uniform.
“Hair, garments, but at the core you are still mine.”
Resisting the urge to backhand the Queen in the face, Seven simply kept looking forward.
“The Borg have changed as well,” Seven said. “I expected re-assimilation, not conversation.”
“I also see they’ve given you a sense of humor,” the Queen said.
“I see you are an annoying pain in the ass,” Seven said. “Let’s just get this over with.”

“Spoken like a true individual,” the Queen said. “The last two years must have been a remarkable experience. You are unique.”
“My experience will add to your ‘perfection,’” Seven said. “That is why you had me removed from Voyager.”
The Borg Queen tilted her head, as if surprised that Seven didn’t understand the situation. Seven found the gesture insulting.
“It is why we put you there in the first place,” the Queen said. “You believe that Voyager liberated you from the collective. Did you really think we would surrender you so easily?”
You’ve got to be kidding, Seven thought. The Borg are going to pull an ‘I meant to do that?’ I was there, I only became a member of the crew because I survived Chakotay flushing the other drones out into space. There is no way this was part of some master plan.
“You must be tired,” the Queen said. “We’ve adapted an alcove just for you to regenerate in. Right over there. When your cycle is complete we will continue our conversation.”

Seven didn’t move, didn’t even look at the alcove that had been made for her. She just glared at the Borg Queen. Seven had not sacrificed her freedom, her individuality, her life just so she could be lectured by a woman whose appearance Tom Paris likely would’ve found a dozen ways to mock by now.
“Comply,” the Queen said.

Seven eventually did so. She was tired, the Borg Queen had gotten that much right. She hoped it would all be over soon, one way or another.
The ‘another’ being, a voice in the back of her mind said, maybe taking advantage of the fact you aren’t re-assimilated yet and maybe find a way to escape.

If the Borg Queen had heard that thought she gave no indication. Seven was not optimistic, but something here wasn’t right. This was not the Borg Collective she knew, and maybe if she was observant enough, careful enough, strong enough, perhaps she could break free after all. Barring that, she could at least hurt them. That would be enough.

Captain Janeway, Neelix, and a number of other crewmembers were at work cataloging and clearing out the remaining debris from the Borg probe ship, the one whose destruction had started them on the path to this day. As she looked around it almost bothered her how calm everyone seemed, as though it had just been another day. Was everyone really that okay with losing Seven of Nine, or had it just not sunk in yet, she wondered.

Chakotay entered the cargo bay and gave her his report.
“No sign of Borg activity,” he said. “Looks like we made a clean getaway. No sign of the sphere on long range sensors of subspace telemetry.”

“It could be anywhere in the quadrant by now,” Janeway said. “Launch a class-5 probe, scan for transwarp signatures.”
“Understood,” Chakotay said, even though his tone suggested that he felt this was a waste of time.
Janeway looked over at the alcoves along the bay wall.
“She called me Kathryn,” she said.
“Captain?” Chakotay said.
“The last thing she said to me on the sphere,” Janeway said. “She called me Kathryn. Told me to run when a drone was coming up from behind me. She rarely calls people by their first names, people with only one name excluded of course.”
“Captain,” Neelix said, “we’ve cleared out most of the debris but before we vaporize it I’d like to melt down the larger fragments and extract the polytrinic compounds.”
“Go ahead,” Janeway said.
“That leaves one other item,” Neelix said. “Seven of Nine’s alcove. It requires a lot of power. Should I deactivate it?”
Janeway sighed.
“No, leave it alone,” she said.
“Captain,” Chakotay said, presumably to argue that she was being pointlessly sentimental, but she couldn’t accept that.
“Leave it alone,” Janeway reiterated. “It’s too soon to-”

“Ensign Wildman to Captain Janeway,” Sam’s voice said over the com. “Could you come to my quarters, please? I have something I think you need to see. Something from Annika.”
“On my way,” Janeway said, tapping her comm badge to close the channel.
“Right, Sam,” Chakotay said. “I’d completely forgotten. This must be hell on her. She loved Seven, and Seven betrayed-”
“No she didn’t,” Janeway said, not realizing how loud she was until the noise of the crewmembers clearing out the debris stopped. She looked around and saw that everyone was looking at her.

“You weren’t there Chakotay, you didn’t see the look on her face. You didn’t see the tears, the pain. She called me by my first name for god’s sake. She didn’t betray us to return to the collective, she sacrificed herself to save us. Have you all forgotten already everything she did in the short time she was here to help this ship?”

“You’re right,” Chakotay said, looking embarrassed. “She’s right,” he said, looking at the other crewmembers. “The fact is if we’d really been betrayed, we’d be drones on that sphere right now. Remember that.”
“Thank you, Chakotay,” Janeway said.
“Well, it helps that you verbally smacked some sense into me,” Chakotay said. “I guess it was just easier to believe she’d stabbed us in the back than to mourn her.”
“I’m going to talk to Sam,” Janeway said. “I’ll see you on the bridge.”
“Aye, Captain,” Chakotay said.

Samantha Wildman imagined she looked as bad as she felt when the Captain walked through the door to her and Naomi’s quarters. Sam was technically supposed to be doing a lab shift today, but no one had said anything when she didn’t show up. No one called her, or came by to see her in person except for Neelix who had offered tea.

Naomi was in her room, finally asleep after spending what seemed like hours simply crying. Sam had cried too, but had tried to hold it back enough to offer what little comfort she could to her daughter.
“Sam?” Janeway said.
“Captain,” Sam said, not standing up, instead pointing to the monitor screen on the wall. “I received a message from Annie. She recorded this before the mission on the sphere.”
Sam took a deep breath, wiped fresh tears from her face, and spoke up as clearly as she could manage while Captain Janeway sat next to her.
“Computer, replay last recording.”
Seven’s face appeared on screen.
“Sammy,” she said, “you probably already know what’s happened by the time you’re seeing this, but I want you to hear it from me. Yes, I’ve gone back to the collective. But you need to know that I didn’t do it because I wanted to. I haven’t wanted to return the collective for a long time, and you played a large part, probably the largest part in that.

“Just a short while ago, the Borg were able to reach me. They contacted me through my transceiver, somehow, I don’t know how they turned it back on. They know about the mission to steal the transwarp coil. They said,” Seven stopped, and sighed. “They said if I return to the collective, they would let Voyager go unharmed. I don’t want to believe them, I want to dismiss this as some kind of trap and warn the captain but, it’s true. I just know it is.

“I won’t ask you to forgive me, Sam, for not telling you this right away, but I know, you would’ve tried to stop me, and worst of all, I would’ve let you. I don’t want to do this, but…

“Once you have this message, give it to the Captain. She might be tempted to stage some kind of foolish rescue mission to bring me back. That can’t happen. Use the transwarp coil. If it can’t get you all the way home, at least shorten the journey. Don’t let my sacrifice be for nothing. And tell Naomi I love her, like she was my own. I was looking forward so much to us being a family. Then again, perhaps we already are. I mean, this is what families do right? Take care of each other, no matter the cost?

“I love you, Sam. Goodbye.”
The message ended there, and the screen went blank. Sam felt herself starting to cry again, and she heard the familiar sob of a child behind her. She had failed to notice that Naomi was awake. She had seen the message before, they had watched it together when it first arrived, but it was not any easier.
Janeway’s face, howeve,r was not one of sadness, it was one of grim determination. She was planning something, Sam was sure of it.
“Captain,” she said, quietly, “I miss her too, more than anyone, but you heard what she said.”
“I did,” Janeway said. “but there is one thing about Starfleet captains that Seven has never truly understood. We don’t like to leave anyone behind. If there is even a sliver of a chance we can get her back, I’m taking it.” Janeway tapped her com badge,
“Janeway to all senior staff, report to the briefing room. Sam, may I have a copy of this message?”
“Why?” Sam said. “What could it possibly-”
“I don’t know yet,” Janeway said. “but if nothing else, at least the senior staff will know that she didn’t let us down. There’s been some, doubt, in that regard.”
“She wouldn’t do that,” Sam said.

“I know. I knew even before I saw this recording.”
Sam sighed, then nodded.
“Take it,” she said.
“Thank you,” Janeway said. She leaned forward and put her hands on Sam’s shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. “We’ll do our best to bring her home. I promise.”
“Don’t make promises reality might not let you keep Captain,” Sam said. She wanted Seven of Nine, her Annie, back in her arms so badly it hurt, but not if it meant endangering everyone else’s life, she couldn’t afford to be that selfish, not with a child to take care of.
“I don’t make promises lightly, Sam,” Janeway said.

When Seven of Nine opened her eyes, her vision was no longer like that of a human, it was like that of a Borg drone. Despite this, she still felt like herself. She could not hear the voice of the voice of the collective, and her thoughts were still her own.

“Good morning,” the Borg Queen said.
“My visual cortex has been altered,” Seven said.

“We’ve enhanced it with Borg technology. You’ve seen through human eyes long enough. It’s a neural processing adjunct designed to increase your synaptic efficiency.”
“My ‘human eyes’ were fine,” Seven said defiantly. “I could still use my implants to see more if I needed to. Remove this upgrade.”

“You prefer to remain small?” the Borg Queen said.
“I prefer to remain unique,” Seven said, wondering briefly just how many times she could punch the Queen in the face before any drones came to stop her.
“Don’t be afraid,” the Queen said. “We won’t turn you into a drone. You’re much too valuable to us with your individuality intact. But you’ve left humanity behind, try to leave behind their petty emotions as well.”

“Happiness is one of these petty emotions you speak of,” Seven said. “Yet you were perfectly willing to be happy to see me when I arrived.”
The Queen did not seem to have any response to that.
Seven decided to press forward with the biggest question of all she had about this whole affair.
“You have expended considerable resources to capture me,” she said. “Why?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You’re going to help us assimilate humanity. We failed in our first attempt to assimilate Earth and we won’t succeed the next time unless we understand the nature of their resistance.”

“Or you could accept your failures,” Seven said, feeling genuinely assertive for the first time since she’d been brought to the unicomplex. “You couldn’t assimilate Earth when you went back in time to a period when they were vulnerable. Or have you simply erased the disaster of the attempt to kill Zefram Cochrane and prevent first contact with the Vulcans from your memory?”

“We want you to be our eyes, Seven. Let us see humanity,” the Borg Queen said.

“While I was regenerating,” Seven said. “you no doubt assimilated my memories. So you already possess all of my knowledge. There is no point to this exercise.”
“You are the only Borg that has ever returned to a state of individuality,” the Borg Queen said. Seven did not respond.

“We both know that is not true,” Seven said. “You are attempting to deceive me, despite my knowledge both from the collective and from Starfleet records. Why?”

“We want to keep you exactly the way you are. Otherwise, we would lose your human perspective,” the Queen said, continuing on with her speech as though it hadn’t been interrupted, and ignoring all of Seven’s questions. “We don’t want another drone. We want you.”
Seven of Nine applied all her Borg analytical thinking to the situation, trying to find some sort of logic in the Borg Queen ramblings. When that failed, she tried to look at it from a human perspective; perhaps there was some ‘method to the madness’ as the old Earth saying went. Ultimately, however, both lines of thought led her to the same conclusion.
“That’s an illogical plan,” she said to the Borg Queen, who actually seemed taken aback by how forcefully she said it. The Borg Queen did not respond, clearly unprepared.
Did it really never occur to her that I wouldn’t go along with this so easily? Seven thought. This is the queen of the hive? Chell could come up with a better plan than this. While intoxicated.

The unicomplex shuddered, and the Borg Queen continued talking as if Seven of Nine hadn’t just insulted her to her face.
“Our vessel is disengaging from the unicomplex. We’re setting a course for grid 5-3-2.”
“State your purpose,” Seven said.
“Assimilation,” the Queen said. “Our presence is not required but I thought the experience might be a rewarding one for you.”
Ripping off your nose would be a rewarding experience for me, Seven thought. Every emotion she’d had up to this point relating to her returning to the collective, fear, trepidation, loss, even her missing Samantha was all replaced. She was angry. However, she would not let that anger consume her. Instead, she would channel it, harness it, and when the moment came, she would use that anger as a weapon against the very Collective that a mere two years ago she longed to be a part of again. Was it always like this, or did something happen to the collective while I was away?

The Borg Queen called up a holographic image of a planet that Seven had never seen before and drew her attention to it.
“Species 10026,” she said.
“How many lifeforms,” Seven said.
“Three hundred, ninety-two thousand,” the Queen said. “You’re experiencing compassion. I can feel it as easily as I felt your anger towards me earlier. You’ve forgotten what it means to be Borg. Those lives will be added to our own.”

After Captain Janeway had shown Seven’s goodbye video to Sam to the rest of the senior staff, the crew got to work on figuring out exactly what had happened. Soon. Janeway herself found signs that the Borg had communicated to Seven through what sensors had initially tagged as random subspace interference.

What she didn’t expect was Chakotay coming to her in her quarters between shifts the following morning with news that they were not just any signals, but ones belonging to a Borg Queen, like the queen of an insect hive.
“Look at the transpectral frequencies,” he said. “Just like those that Seven’s parents found during their time studying the cube they shadowed. They matched the ones that were sent to cargo bay 2.”

“What did the Hansens learn about the Borg Queen?” Janeway said.

“I’m afraid they never got the chance to find out,” Chakotay said.
“Whatever she is, she clearly can exert a considerable degree of influence. Seven of Nine insisted she be on that away mission, that without her we would fail. I think she was being threatened.”
“So, you’re saying the Borg Queen offered to let us go in exchange for her surrendering willingly?” Chakotay said.

“Possibly,” Janeway said. “Though given my week I’d be a fool to think that that was the right answer seeing as it’s my first hypothesis.”

“I don’t know,” Chakotay said, “it sounds plausible to me, if a bit out of character for the Borg. If they wanted her back so badly they easily could’ve taken her by force.”
“I want you to keep at it with the Hansens’ logs. Compile a list of every piece of tech they came up with to track the Borg. Assemble a team of engineers to assist you.”
“If you’re planning a rescue mission,” Chakotay said, “that research will only take you so far. I’ve studied their log entries long enough to realize that as brilliant as the Hansens were, they made a fatal mistake. They became overconfident.”
“We won’t make the same mistake,” Janeway said. “There’s a saying I used to hear around Starfleet Academy back in the day. Learn from other people’s mistakes, because you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

“Fair enough, but one last thing,” Chakotay said. “Seven of Nine did what she did to save us. If we endanger the ship-”
“We won’t,” Janeway said. “This will be a volunteer mission only, and we’ll be taking the Delta Flyer. If I and whoever comes with me doesn’t make it back, it’ll be up to you to get everyone home.”
Chakotay sighed.
“No point in trying to talk you into letting me lead the rescue team is there?”
Janeway smiled.
“Not a chance,” she said.

Samantha was still lying in bed, as she had been almost non-stop for two days since Chakotay had made her leave of absence official, when the ship wide communication opened. Captain Janeway was addressing the entire crew. Sam tried to tune it out, she just wanted to lie in bed and mourn her girlfriend, but soon she realized that what the Captain was talking about was a rescue mission. For Seven.
“This will be a long-range tactical rescue,” Janeway said. “It could take days, even weeks before we find our missing crewmember. Lieutenant Torres is equipping the Delta Flyer with the transwarp coil. It will allow us to cover more territory. My team will take it into transwarp space, where Commander Tuvok believes we can track the sphere that abducted Seven of Nine. Thanks to the work of Magnus and Erin Hansen, we’ll be well prepared for an encounter with the Borg. Their multi-adaptive shielding will make the Flyer virtually invisible to Borg sensors, and narrow beam transporters will allow us to penetrate the sphere.

“This is going to be a dangerous operation, therefore it is strictly volunteer. Anyone who wants to sign up, report to Tuvok’s security office at 0600 hours. Janeway out.”

Sam sat up, grabbed her uniform off the back of a nearby chair, and dressed faster than she had since her Academy days. She knew that the Captain would not want her to come along, but she had lost so much these past six years, and of those things only Naomi had been returned to her by way of a spatial anomaly she didn’t like to think about.
Naomi, she thought. Damn, I can’t leave her. What if something happens to me?
Sam sat back down on the bed, in full uniform, but less determined than she’d been just seconds ago. She got back into bed, and pulled the sheets up to her neck, closed her eyes, and began hoping that Captain Janeway could bring the woman she loved back home.

“Come home, Annie,” she whispered into her pillow. “Come home.”

-o-

“As you expected Captain,” Tuvok said as he stood next to Captain Janeway on the bridge, “there were, in fact, more volunteers than we could possibly fit on the Delta Flyer.”
Janeway smiled.
“Good to hear,” she said. “Nice to know that people understand that reports of Seven’s betrayal were greatly exaggerated. Who are we bringing along?”

“The Doctor insisted on coming, since he has expertise in removing Borg implants, and Mister Paris is not only our most qualified pilot, he built the Delta Flyer. I have also added Joe Carey to the away team, in case we have any difficulty with the Flyer’s warp core.”
“Not B’Elanna?”
“She did not volunteer, though she has, wished us luck.”
“That’s all?”
“Yes Captain, much to the disappointment of many,” Tuvok said. “However, I felt it logical to keep the away team small so as to prevent the Flyer from being too crowded, and to increase the length of time our supplies can last.”
“Sounds good,” Janeway said. “Chakotay, you have the bridge. Tuvok, Tom, I’ll go collect the Doctor and Mister Carey and meet you at the Flyer.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tom said.

“The rest of you,” Janeway said to everyone else on the bridge, “Commander Chakotay has your orders. He’s in command until we return. And we will return, with our missing crewmember. Starfleet has lost enough to the Borg. It’s time we took something from them for a change.”

With that, she, Tuvok, and Tom Paris made their way to the turbolifts at the rear of the bridge. Janeway had no doubt in her mind they would succeed.

Tom Paris had never believed for a second that Seven of Nine had just decided to go back to the Collective, and he had made that known to any crewmember who’d suggested otherwise, leading to more than one bitter argument in the mess hall over the course of a few days, but once knowledge of Seven’s goodbye message to Samantha had spread, he’d been vindicated, and that was always a good feeling.
A less good feeling was the unexpected effect that crossing the transwarp threshold had on his stomach, leaving him glad he hadn’t eaten yet.
“Wow,” he said, looking out the forward viewport and the glowing green and black tunnel ahead of them, the colors shifting and undulated like some eldritch abomination from one of those old Earth horror stories his high school history teacher had loved so much.

“Doctor,” he heard Janeway say from her seat right behind his, “are you alright?”
“Just a bit of motion sickness,” the Doctor said. “I will need to adjust my holomatrix to account for extreme velocity.”
“If it’s any consolation doc,” Tom said, “I’m feeling a bit woozy myself.”
“I am detecting a transwarp signature,” Tuvok said. “it matches the sphere that took Seven of Nine.”
“Adjust our course and follow it Mister Paris,” Janeway said. “Mister Carey, how are the engines holding up?”
“Fantastic,” Joe Carey said, “B’Elanna did a great job of integrating the Borg technology into the Flyer.”

“Well Seven did help me build it,” Tom said. “Shame she’s not here to see this.”
“Well, hey, I’m glad I could help,” Carey said. “Though I must admit it, as much as I want to see Seven rescued, I was getting a little bit of cabin fever back on Voyager. I haven’t had a proper away mission in months.”

Janeway chuckled.
“I don’t if I would call this proper Lieutenant,” she said, “but it’s good to have you with us anyway.”

“Thanks, Captain,” Carey said. “This will be one hell of a story to tell my sons.”

Seven of Nine studied the information from the Borg diamond she was on, the Queen’s personal ship, when the Queen came around a corner and began speaking to her.
“We’ve arrived,” she said. “Are you ready?”
“I have familiarized myself with the species,” Seven said. She didn’t want to go along with this, but she knew that there was little she could do to help. If the Borg Queen felt she was lying she could easily just go into her head again as she had before and find the truth. Short of killing herself, Seven saw no way to help the people of Species 10026, and that was not something she was ready to do, at least not yet.

“Tactical weakness?” the Queen said.
“Their vessels lack maneuverability,” Seven said.
“Tactical strength?”

“They’ve developed a modulating phaser pulse that can penetrate our shields,” Seven said.

“You hope they can damage us enough to give you the opportunity to escape, don’t you?”
“Another common trait of humanoid species,” Seven said derisively. “Asking a question you already know the answer to. How you can still consider yourself above them?”
“Trying to goad me into making a mistake will not work, Seven of Nine,” the Queen said.
“It annoys you,” Seven said. “That is sufficient.”

The Borg diamond shuddered under the impact of weapons fire.
“How do you propose we adapt?” The Queen said.
“You’re the Borg, you tell me,” Seven said.

“Thirty-nine of their vessels are converging on our position,” the Borg Queen said, stepping forward. “Our shields are failing. We will be destroyed.”

The ship shuddered violently, a panel behind Seven sparking, much the same way Voyager’s would when it was under heavy attack. Thinking of Voyager again made her think of Sam, and how badly she wanted to see her again, and in a moment of weakness, Seven gave the Borg Queen what she wanted.
“Triaxillate our shield geometry to absorb their phaser pulses,” she said, regretting the words as soon as they left her mouth.
The Borg Queen smiled that insufferable smile again, and said “I was thinking the same thing.”
Seven wanted to punch that face so badly, only the shaking of the ship under another volley made her pull back.
“Maybe next time,” the Borg Queen said. “If it will really make you feel any better. Though more likely, you’ll only injure your hand.”
“I hate you,” Seven said.
“For now,” the Queen said, casually. She looked up and to her right, and a second later the shaking stopped. “Adaptation complete. They are no longer a threat. Go the primary assimilation chamber. You’ll monitor the bio-extraction process.”
Seven swallowed hard. She remembered what those chambers were like, and she knew that she did not want to see that again, even though she knew she had no choice.
“You look reluctant,” the Queen said. “Perhaps I have been pushing you too quickly. You can assist with repairs to the shield matrix instead.”
Seven didn’t reply, she merely went to the door that would take her to the corridor that would lead to the shield matrix. At least there, she wouldn’t be put in a position to harm anyone. She walked unsteadily through the corridor, feeling nauseous for the first time since she was a child. Around her, captured members of Species 10026 were escorted by drones to assimilation chambers, bloodcurdling screams ringing out from the direction of the chambers.

“I can’t help them,” she muttered to herself as she got to work on the shield generator, trying to lose herself in her repair work as other drones worked around her.

The screams didn’t stop though, and she walked away, trying to find somewhere on the ship, anywhere, where they would at least be quieter. She walked down multiple corridors, the site of numerous freshly assimilated humanoids making her feel even more sick. She reached a chamber, where she saw three members of Species 10026 standing still, but unassimilated, trying to be brave as a drone prepared to attach a prosthetic replacement arm to the severed stump on an alien on the table in front of it.
That’s it, Seven thought. A second drone that was in the assimilation chamber left, presumably to carry out a repair as the battle still raged on, and even with the adapted shields the diamond was starting to shudder again. As soon as it was gone, she immediately went up to the remaining drone working on the victim on the table, and deactivated it.

“Assist me,” she said to the aliens who looked shocked as she propped up the one on the table. “I will help you escape.”
Two of the aliens helped the one on the table up, and held onto him when he had trouble standing. In a panicked rush, looking out the entryway to the assimilation chamber every few seconds, Seven began operating a console.
“I am detecting one of your ships. It is heavily damaged, the crew is dead. The Borg are ignoring it. Its propulsion system is still functioning, I will transport you aboard. Remain there until the Borg leave orbit, then set a course on a heading of 1-2-1 mark nine. Do you understand?”
One of the aliens, Seven assumed she was a female, nodded. Seven checked one more time to see that no drones were looking in their direction. She rapidly tapped several buttons, and watched with a small sense of relief as a Borg transporter beam enveloped them, sending them to the ship.

Seven returned to the main chamber where the Borg Queen waited, the sounds of battle, and the screams of the captured had stopped.

“Congratulations,” the Queen said. “assimilation is complete.”
“Three hundred thousand individuals have been transformed into drones,” Seven said. “Should they be congratulated as well?”

“They should be. They’ve left behind their trivial, selfish lives and they’ve been reborn with a greater purpose.”
“By force,” Seven said. “I wonder, how much time in the search for knowledge and perfection has been wasted by shoving it down the rest of the galaxy’s throat. How much farther along in understanding would the Borg be had they spent all that energy, all those resources in study instead of combat.”

“We are delivering the galaxy from chaos into order,” the Borg Queen said.

“Bullshit,” Seven said. “Perhaps you should use those words in the future, instead of ‘resistance is futile.’ What you do isn’t a search for perfection, it’s a cult.”

“You cling to anger because you are afraid to see the truth,” the Queen said. “species 10026 is already adding to our perfection. You can feel their distinctiveness coursing through us, enhancing us. Stop resisting. Take pleasure in this.”
“Pleasure?” Seven said with a bitter laugh. “Another petty pursuit you say you are above. The more I learn about you, the more repulsed I am by what the Borg are. My only solace is the hope that perhaps we weren’t always this way. That the Collective was once a hive mind of like minded individuals wanting to understand the universe, instead of a bunch of genocidal hypocrites.”

The Queen began looking around, as if she didn’t hear what Seven was saying to her. Finally the frustration got to be too much.
“We’ve overlooked-” the Queen started to say, too distracted by whatever the Collective was telling her to see that Seven had picked up a long piece of metal that had been blasted off a wall during the battle, and brought it down with all her strength onto the Queen’s head.
“Why do you even bother,” Seven said, striking the Queen again, ignoring the sound of drones marching up the corridor from either side of the chamber. “asking me questions, asking me for my insights on humanity,” she struck again, “if you will just ignore me and talk like you’re reading from a script?” She brought the bar down once more. It took her a moment to realize that the Queen was not making any effort to defend herself. It took another moment for her to realize that the Queen was laughing.
“I see we still have some work to do, Seven of Nine,” she said. “Go back to your alcove. I will adapt my techniques to your new personality, and we can start over. Eventually, you will give in. And when you do, you will be at my side when we finally assimilate Earth.”

Seven of Nine dropped her makeshift weapon, and sighed.
“You are delusional,” she said.
“You are not the first individual to say that to me,” the Queen said. “But can it really be delusion, when the Borg have lasted for so long, and only gotten stronger? When have we ever truly been threatened?”
“Species 8472?” Seven said.
For once, the Queen seemed speechless.
“Species 847- Right, I, we, had forgotten. Somehow. That, why did we seek to penetrate alternate realities when there is still so much in just this galaxy we do not yet know?” The Queen looked confused, and maybe even frightened though Seven was not entirely certain of that. Whatever the Queen felt though, Seven had clearly touched a nerve. But she also raised a question with herself as well.

Why had the Borg entered fluidic space? Why had the Borg only ever attempted time travel once? Why had they never sent more than one cube to the Alpha Quadrant at a time? So many mistakes, so many blunders, and nearly all of them within the past eight years, half an eye-blink compared to all the time the Borg had existed.
Seven allowed herself a small grin. She finally understood that her unique perspective gave her the upper hand. Now all she needed to do was use it to escape.

“Captain?” the Doctor said.
Janeway looked up from the PADD she’d been reading, containing some of the personal journals of the Hansens.
“Hmm?”
“I’d like to suggest some modifications to the comm array,” he said. “I’ve studied Seven’s cranial schematics, and I’ve isolated the frequency of her interplexing beacon. When we catch up with the sphere, we might be able to send her a short message.”
“And if she’s already part of the hive mind by now?” Janeway said.

“Every drone has it’s own translink signature, only Seven would be able to hear our message.”

“Sounds good,” Janeway said. “Get Joe to lend you a hand.”

“Thank you, Captain,” the Doctor said.

While the two men worked near the rear of the Delta Flyer’s cabin, Janeway continued reading the journals. Just a minute later, a quiet alarm noise went off, and Ensign Paris told her what it meant.
“I’ve got a fix on the sphere’s location,” he said. “It’s in a region about two hundred light years from here.”
“Red alert,” Janeway said. “Bring the multi-adaptive shielding on-line. Set a course for those coordinates and prepare to disengage transwarp drive.”

The Delta Flyer exited transwarp, far smoother than it had entered it.
“Holy crap, look at the size of that thing,” Tom said.
Janeway couldn’t help but agree. The structure they were flying towards was definitely Borg, but unlike anything she had ever seen before.
“Report,” she said.
“I’m detecting thousands of integrated substructures,” Tuvok said. “trillions of lifeforms, all Borg.”

“There’s a cube coming up fast off our port bow,” Tom said. The small ship shuddered as the larger Borg one passed it.
“Did they detect us?” Janeway said.
“I do not believe so,” Tuvok said.

“Mister Carey, how is the transwarp coil holding up? I want us to be able to get out of here in a hurry if we need to.”
“Still solid Captain,” Carey said. “The Borg certainly build their stuff to last.”
“Any sign of our sphere?” Janeway said.
“Yes ma’am,” Tom said. “Its ion signature leads directly to, that really big thing ahead of us.”

“Take us in Ensign, minimum thrusters,” Janeway said. “Tuvok, begin scanning for Seven.”

The diamond had returned to the unicomplex. The Borg Queen spoke to Seven as though the latter had not tried to bash the former’s head in mere hours ago.
“I have a task for you,” the Queen said. “We’re planning to deploy a new method of assimilation designed for highly resistant species. I want you to program the nanoprobes.”
“I might be willing to assist in this project,” Seven said, “if you can answer a question for me.”

“What question would this be? I can sense you have many.”
“You claim that you ‘put’ me on Voyager. Yet you have offered no evidence that this was the case. From my perspective, it would seem that while I may have been selected to act as an avatar for the collective during our dealings with Captain Janeway due to my having been human, that was the sole reason. I do not believe there was any long term plan for me to remain aboard Voyager after they assisted us in fighting Species 8472. Can you convince me otherwise?”
The Queen simply shook her head.
“You are not fully returned to the Collective,” she said. “As I said, we need your unique perspective to aid us in assimilating humanity. The downside of thi,s however, is that you cannot truly understand the machinations we have in play.”

“Uh huh,” Seven said. “In other words, you made it up to cover for your own errors.”
“We do not make errors,” the Queen said. “We can only have insufficient information.”
“Excuses,” Seven said.
“From your small minded point of view,” the Queen said. She motioned towards the center of the room. “Interface with the central alcove. Begin programming the nanoprobes. All relevant data will be uploaded to you once you are inside.”

Seven of Nine complied, but only because it was clear to her that the Borg Queen was no longer able to read all of her thoughts. She had an idea. It was unlikely to work, but it was her best chance of getting away. The Borg were not what she had thought they were when she was a drone, or even after, during her early days on Voyager when she had wanted to go back to the Collective. Perhaps they never were, or perhaps they had been but lost their way. Regardless, they were a threat to everything she cared about in the here and now, and she had a chance to hurt them.

“You are still torn between your desire to be one with us,” the Borg Queen said, “and your loyalty to them. Especially to the one called Samantha Wildman. But don’t worry, she will be a part of us in time, and you will be able to hear her voice, forever.”
Seven of Nine backed into the alcove, and smiled. As soon as she felt the link begin to connect, she began flooding her mind with every memory she had of Samantha Wildman. If the Borg Queen was going to try and use Sam against Seven, Seven was going to use Sam right back. And as she expected, the drones in the room had no idea how to respond to all the romantic and erotic imagery they were being flooded with.
“What are you doing?” the Borg Queen said, breathing heavily.
“I’m distracting you,” Seven said, as her own alcove on the diamond, the one she had set to a gradual overload, one so small it only registered as a minor issue to be repaired later to the drone, exploded.

The Borg Queen screamed in anger as the organic parts of her body were shredded by shrapnel. Seven felt the sting of some piece entering her legs which weren’t as protected as the rest of her by the Queen’s own alcove, but she bit back her own cry of pain as she pulled out the link and got out of the alcove.
“Giving me your own alcove was your mistake,” Seven said, smiling through the pain as blood poured out of her own wounds. “Doing so gave me more access than I would’ve had from my own.” With that Seven ran as fast as she could out the door and into the corridors.
Now, she thought, time to find a probe craft and hijack it. Easier said than done.

“Seven of Nine, we’re searching for you, hang on,” Janeway said into the com, hoping that it was being received.
After several more tries, she checked her scanners.

“Our transmission is being deflected,” she said.

“By whom?” the Doctor said.

“No idea,” she said, much to her own frustration.

“Captain,” Tuvok said, “I have isolated Seven of Nine’s position. She’s inside a large infrastructure, approximately six hundred kilometers away. She appears to be moving.

“Set a course, Tom,” Janeway said.
“On it,” Tom said. As they approached, the proximity alert went off. “A cube has altered course. It’s heading straight for us.”

“They’ve detected us,” Janeway said. “remodulate the shields, begin evasive maneuvers.”

The Delta Flyer shuddered slightly.
“Whew, flew right past us,” Tom said.
“If they’re on to our trick we won’t be able to fool their sensors for much longer.,” Janeway said. “Tuvok?”
“Seven is moving through a corridor, heading towards a collection of probe ships,” Tuvok said. “Her pace suggests she is running.”
“Trying to escape maybe?” Carey said.
“That’s a good sign if you’re right,” the Doctor said.

“Janeway to Seven of Nine, can you hear me?” Janeway said, hoping they were close enough to get a signal through.No response.
“Tuvok, can you get a lock on her?”
“Not from this distance.”

“Take us to within transporter range,” Janeway said.

“Seven of Nine,” the Borg Queen’s voice said in Seven’s head. She tried to ignore it, but no luck. “Return to the central alcove Seven. I have something for you.”
“I doubt that very much,” she said, not caring if the Borg Queen could hear her back or not.

“Annika Hansen,” the Borg Queen said. “We remember you. We always have. Your parents were assimilated too, remember?”

“Kind of hard to forget,” Seven said, grunting, the pain in her legs getting worse. So far none of the drones she passed attempted to restrain her. She still thinks she can convince me to work with her, she thought. She is even more delusional that I had first believed.

“Seven of Nine, can you hear us?” Janeway’s voice said. Seven could hear her inside her head too, but in a different place; her interplexing beacon.
“Captain, can you hear me?” she said.
“Loud and clear,” Janeway said, sounding excited. Part of Seven feared this was a trap, but realized fairly quickly that a trap that clever was beyond what the Borg were capable of now, if ever. “We need you to stay where you are.”
Seven looked behind her. A number of drones she had passed had now turned around, and were heading straight for her.
“Not an option,” Seven said, moving forward.

“Annika?” another voice said. A male one. Seven stopped in her tracks. It was coming from the place in her head the Borg Queen’s voice had come.
“Oh no,” Seven said.

“Seven, hang on, we’ll try to get you out, but we’ve got three cubes converging on our position,” Janeway said.
“Seven,” the Borg Queen said, “come back to the central alcove. Come see your father.”
Seven closed her eyes, and gritted her teeth. She wanted so badly to see her father alive again, but she couldn’t give in to that temptation.
“I’m sorry Papa,” she said, “I wish you could’ve met Sam. You would love her.”

“We believed you would be an asset to us,” the Borg Queen said. “We were wrong. You are weak. And now you are responsible for the death of your father.” Seven could hear the scream as the Queen painfully terminated the drone that had once been Magnus Hansen. But Seven had a response that even she didn’t expect from herself. She laughed.
“You didn’t kill him,” she said to the Borg Queen. “You set him free.”
“What?” the Borg Queen said.

“Thank you,” Seven said. “Enjoy your precious Collective. I get the feeling that it won’t be around much longer.” She allowed the connection with the Queen to expand just a little. She showed the Queen what she had seen, about the mistakes the Borg had been making, how they were getting, to put it bluntly, dumber.
“No,” the Queen said. “You are lying to us!”
“How? You’re in my head remember?”
Before the Queen could reply, Seven felt the pull of a transporter beam envelop her body, just as the drones who had been coming towards began to lunge forward to grab her, but it was too late for them.

Janeway watched as Seven of Nine materialized near the back of the Delta Flyer’s cabin.

“We got her,” she said. “Tom, get us out of here.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Tom said. The Delta Flyer shuddered, the weapons of the Borg not connecting with them directly, but still affecting the shuttle in their wake.
“She’s hurt, Captain,” the Doctor said, going to seven with his medkit in hand. Janeway had noticed that Seven’s legs were bleeding profusely.

“She’ll be able to track us,” Seven said. “You have to knock me out and disable my transceiver.”

The ship shook, more violently this time.
“Direct hit to our tactical array,” Tuvok said. “Our weapons are down.”
“Joe, fire up the transwarp coil.”
“On it, Captain,” Carey said.
“Transwarp in four seconds,” Tom said.
If we can hold out that long, Janeway thought.

“A vessel entered the conduit with us just before it closed,” Tom said. “It’s Borg, diamond shaped. Never seen one of those before.”
“It’s the Borg Queen’s personal vessel,” Seven said. “I can still hear her.”
“I’m working on a powerful enough sedative, Seven,” the Doctor said. “Just give me a-”
“Wait,” Seven said. Janeway looked at Seven who seemed to be gazing intently at the ceiling. Suddenly, Seven closed her eyes and chuckled.
“You, moron,” she said.
“Seven?” the Doctor said, sounding worried.
“She still hasn’t broken our connection. I can hear her. I can hear every drone on that diamond. And I know their shield modulation frequency and structural weak points.”

“Give that data to Tuvok,” Janeway said. “Tuvok, once you have it transmit that data to Voyager,” Janeway said, “ASAP. Tell them to open fire on whatever comes out of that conduit after us with everything they’ve got.”
“Aye Captain,” Tuvok said.

“The diamond is attempting to lock onto us with a tractor beam,” Tom said.
“I’m remodulating the shields,” Janeway said, “that should hold them off. How long ‘til the rendezvous point with Voyager?”
“One minute,” Tom said.

The Flyer kept rattling, the combination of its engine being pushed to their limits and they’re being fired upon. Janeway hope the shuttle would hold together just a little while longer.
Seven spoke quietly to herself, or at least that’s what it looked like.
“Doctor, what is she doing?”
“Antagonizing the Borg Queen,” the Doctor said. “I think she’s trying to goad her into making a mistake.”
“At this point that’s probably going to do more harm than good,” Tom said.
“We’re coming up on the threshold,” Tuvok said.
“Exiting in four, three, two…” Tom said.
Open space filled the viewport. Off in the distance, small but growing larger each second, Voyager.
“Tuvok?” Janeway said.
“Data already sent, Captain,” Tuvok replied, knowing exactly what she meant. “along with the order to fire at will.”
“Tom, make sure we don’t get caught in the crossfire,” Janeway said.
“Sure, take away all my fun,” Tom joked as he maneuvered the Delta Flyer out of the path of where Voyager’s phasers and torpedoes would be going.

Another proximity alert went off, but Janeway didn’t need to be told what that meant.
Voyager has opened fire, Captain,” Tuvok said. “The Borg diamond has already taken significant damage. Its structural integrity is collapsing. Destruction is imminent.”
“Tom, fire a few torpedoes of our own. Let’s give the Borg Queen one last little ‘up yours’ from Starfleet.”
“With pleasure ma’am,” Tom said, bringing the Delta Flyer about so that the Borg diamond was visible in the viewport, without the aid of sensors. Explosions ran along its structure, large chunks of it flying off into space. A pair of torpedoes flew out from the Flyer herself, hitting the crumbling ship dead center. The Borg vessel was already a lost cause, the last two torpedoes only speeding along the inevitable, but Janeway took a great deal of pleasure in it anyway.
“You know,” Joe Carey said, “in all the excitement, I forgot to say welcome back, Seven.”
“Good to be back, Joe,” Seven said, leaning against the bulkhead, and smiling. Janeway looked on her with pride. When she had first brought Seven on board, some had dismissed her as just the Captain’s pet project, and maybe to an extent they had been right at the time. Now though, here was someone who had, to paraphrase an old Earth philosopher, stared into the abyss, and laughed.
“Tom,” Janeway said, “take us home.”

Seven of Nine got up from the biobed slowly. The Doctor had repaired all the damage done to them, but they still felt sore and unsteady. The door to sickbay opened, and Samantha Wildman came running in, nearly knocking over a tray of medical instruments in the process as she grabbed Seven and held her tight in a hug that Seven feared might cut off the blood flow to her brain.
“Don’t, scare me like that, again,” Sam said, managing to be sad, happy, and angry at the same time in that way that only a human could.
“I don’t intend to,” Seven said, hugging Sam back. Seven took in a deep breath, and said something that she had not planned on saying at that moment. In fact, she hadn’t expected to say it for at least another year. “Marry me,” she said. Sam didn’t let go of Seven, but she did pull back a little so she could look Seven in the face.
“What?” she said.
“What?” the Doctor said.
Seven considered taking it back, saying that it was just the stress of everything she had been through the past several days
No, she thought, it’s out there now. Might as well face the consequences. Besides, a no right now would not mean the end of our relationship, simply a desire to keep things from escalating too quickly. A negative response would be disappointing, but completely reasonable.

“Okay,” Sam said, smiling.
“I can honestly say I did not see that coming,” the Doctor said. “Seven, you’re clear to leave. I would advise against doing any running for a day or two, but your legs are in perfect working order otherwise.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Seven said. “And, thank you for coming to rescue me.”

“I’d do the same for any member of the crew,” the Doctor said, his smile belying his modesty.

“So,” Sam said, “I imagine you won’t be referring to yourself as both human and Borg after all this.”

“Actually,” Seven said, as she leaned back against the biobed. “what I went through has me thinking I’m more of a true Borg than any Borg has been in a long time. I think maybe I represent what the Borg could be in a more ideal universe.”
“That’s oddly egotistical of you, Seven,” the Doctor said.
“A little bit, yeah,” Sam said, tilting her head slightly.
“Maybe,” Seven said. “but my experience, while unpleasant, was also insightful.”
“How so?” the Doctor said.
“I’ll need to do more research to be certain Doctor, but if my hypothesis is correct, I believe that the Borg Collective will not be a threat to anyone before long.”
“Now this I gotta hear,” Sam said as she put a hand on Seven’s back. “but later. For now, I think you and I have a date with a spa program on the holodeck.”

Captain Janeway sat down on her couch in her quarters, a cup of tea instead of coffee this time, and she planned to go to bed as soon as she finished her latest log entry.

“Captain’s Log,” she said. “Stardate 52619.2. We got another twenty thousand light years out of the transwarp coil before it gave out. I figure we’re a good fifteen years closer to home. Unlike the last time we managed to take this large a chunk out of our journey, the crew isn’t planning any sort of celebration. Honestly, I think a lot of us are just feeling burned out. This mess with the Borg the past few weeks was certainly trying on everyone to varying degrees.

“Still, some good came out of it. Seven of Nine has updated our records on the Borg with information she gathered during her time in Unimatrix One. Speaking of Seven, word has gotten around about her and Samantha Wildman getting engaged. I have to say, I never saw that coming when I brought her on board. I imagined it would take a long time for her to even start making friends, let alone fall in love.

“That’s all stuff I’ve opined about before though, I’m actually quite happy for them. In a weird way, I feel almost like my own child is getting married. It’s silly to think that of course, the age gap between us isn’t wide enough for her to be like a daughter to me, but still. I wish them all the best.

“What I do worry about though is that we haven’t seen the last of the Borg. The Borg Queen doubtless had contingency plans in place if her body were ever destroyed. Add to that that she seems dangerously obsessed with Seven…

“I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. As for now, I think the crew has earned some rest.”

Janeway put down her now empty cup of tea, and got into bed.
“Computer, end log entry.”

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